By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Before a Panthers logo was ever designed or a game ever played in South Florida, Bill Torrey made key decisions that made the Panthers the NHL’s most successful expansion franchise and one of its most incredible success stories.
Sixteen years later, Torrey finds himself in a similar position.
Torrey, a Hall of Fame member and the Panthers Alternate Governor, will lead the search for the team’s next general manager; it was announced Monday by owner/general partner Alan Cohen.
Torrey began his work Monday afternoon after Jacques Martin resigned from the Panthers to become head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Torrey will also work with assistant GM Randy Sexton, head coach Peter DeBoer and director of amateur scouting Scott Luce on the June 26-27 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, free agency commencing July 1, and any player trades and signings during the interim period.
Torrey said the incoming GM will join the Panthers with the knowledge that he will be working with DeBoer and Luce.
“We are going to get the search for Jacques successor going as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.
DeBoer said the Panthers are in “capable hands” in the weeks ahead.
“Between (President and COO) Michael Yormark, Randy and Bill, and Scott Luce our head scout, I’m real comfortable we’re not going to drop any balls here and we’re going to get everything done we need to get done.”
Torrey, recognized as the builder of the Islanders dynasty teams and the Panthers 1996 Stanley Cup finalist team, was asked Monday if experience would be a prerequisite for a new GM, Torrey replied, “Experience is one of many qualities.”
“I want someone who is going to represent this franchise in the best possible way, publicly as well as in the dressing room,” he added. “A manager’s job is multi-faceted these days. It’s not just saying this is what I want. I don’t want to eliminate somebody just because he may have experience or may not have experience. I want someone who has the knowledge of the league. I also want someone who comes in here with an understanding of what we have going forth. This is a team that has improved over the last few years. It’s a young team that will have some needs. I want someone who is aware of those needs, but I also want someone who, obviously, Peter is comfortable with.
“I’ve got to see what’s out there and what best fits. What’s possible? It’s a feeling. You have to feel your way along in the process.”
Torrey said he will assess who is available, who might be under contract the Panthers can get permission to talk to, and those currently without a team.
“I want face-to-face meetings with those we feel are serious candidates,” Torrey said.
Martin, who had been with the Panthers since May of 2004, first as head coach and then GM, was announced as the Canadiens head coach Monday afternoon in Montreal. DeBoer said he spoke Monday morning with Martin.
Panthers President and COO Michael Yormark said the Canadiens called Cohen approximately 10 days ago asking permission to speak to Martin about their head coaching position.
“As we can all imagine, for a French Canadian growing up in Canada…clearly, Jacques was interested in speaking to the Canadiens,” said Yormark, who added the Panthers were notified Sunday night of Martin’s decision to go to Montreal.
Torrey has had a long history in hockey, and one with the Panthers dating back to April 19, 1993.
Named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, Torrey’s NHL career is long and varied, beginning in 1967 when he named executive vice president of the expansion California Seals. He is best known, however, for his stints with the Panthers and Islanders.
In 1972, Torrey was named general manager of the expansion Islanders and he quickly built them into one of hockey’s greatest dynasties. The Islanders advanced to the semifinals in four of their first seven seasons and won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980-83. Torrey was also responsible for drafting Hall of Fame players Mike Bossy and Denis Potvin as well as Bill Smith.
It wasn’t coincidence the Panthers early success – including being the NHL’s most successful first-year team (33 wins and 83 points in 1993-94) – came under Torrey’s tutelage. Torrey also helped develop a plan at the ’93 Expansion Draft that landed the Panthers players who would lead them to the 1996 Stanley Cup finals: John Vanbiesbrouck, Brian Skrudland, Tom Fitzgerald, Scott Mellanby, Dave Lowry, Mike Hough and Bill Lindsay. Torrey also suggested the hiring of Bob Clarke as the Panthers first GM and Chuck Fletcher as assistant general manager. Fletcher was named GM of the Wild recently after serving as assistant GM in Pittsburgh.